On Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts is a game about a child name Sora who has a giant key who pals around with Goofy and Donald Duck. He goes to different worlds based on various Disney properties and bludgeons Heartless to death with said key. Heartless are minimally self-aware people who have been attacked and turned into monsters against their will. At the end of the game, the power of friendship is invoked and Mickey Mouse helps seal a giant door that has some kind of significance for a universe held in the balance.

I did not understand Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts is a game with an amazing combat system. Sora is a child with a giant key who bludgeons Heartless to death with a poetic amount of skill, dodging from enemy to enemy via an incredibly finicky targeting system that seems to actively work against the player in some kind of unholy alliance with a camera that never seems to work quite right.

Despite that alliance, I control Sora as well as I can, and we hop up into the sky and hit a flying pirate ship three times before landing and hitting a fireball back at some flying mage thing and then dashing into a group of lackeys after which Sora explodes into a giant dome and dazes everything around him. It is absolutely chaotic. I can rarely, if ever, predict what the enemies are going to do, or even what I am doing, and yet everything also seems to hang in a precarious balance where every move I make either saves me or puts my health in a red fire alarm status.

Kingdom Hearts is my Dark Souls. It is the game where a moment of mastery means everything, even at the cost of a thousand failures. It is an exercise is futile repetition where I live in hope that a combination of luck and slowly advancing skill will allow me to beat Ursula or Ansem or any of the tens of battles that sap my health points in various untelegraphed and unclear ways.

I am bad at reading the information the game gives me. I feel like it is very good at understanding me.

Moments of extreme beauty:

a. keyblade battle where the AI is programmed so perfectly that you dodge, roll, swing past one another almost constantly and you feel the stress and you feel like you’re at the peak of your ability as a player and then you parry a swing and you and the other are both recoiling and it is a race to see if you can hit the button fast enough to swing and hit before the computer does the same

b. you’re flying around Big Ben and there is nothing to do here now other than listen to the music and fly around and experience this moment in a game of an eternal list of things to do

c. you listen to so many stories of loss and brutality and you reach the end of the game and you realize that the only way you can go forward is to annihilate everything that has happened and ensure that the same loss is incurred on the same people but things will be the same as before and the credits scroll and of course things can never go back to the way they were

You can slide down a banister for no reason. It is an animation used occasionally in combt and in the Deep Jungle. I did it over and over again.

Kingdom Hearts is a game that is designed poorly more often than it is designed well. There are moments where the crunch of development is incredibly apparent–the seven or so small areas in Halloween town, the five or so smaller areas of Captain Hook’s pirate ship. The core loop of fight=>short puzzle=>boss is rarely interrupted, but it is also rarely fun, and more often than not it feels like two or three smaller design teams were forced to just smash their content together and hope that it worked out. Some bosses require extensive care to avoid, dodge, and parry attacks while moving around other obstacles or hitting totally tertiary goals in order to bring down defenses. Others just expect you to stand on their faces and smash the attack button as much as possible for three minutes.

I don’t know what my final feelings are about Kingdom Hearts. It is one of the very few games that I’m only in for the combat and the set pieces. If we removed the story and every voiced and unvoiced cutscene, I doubt that I would care or notice. I experience it like I experience poetry; pure form placed in front of me, and I roam between those forms raised like monoliths, trying to avoid meaning and pushing everything until it breaks. Also I’m wailing on dudes with a big key so whatever.

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